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John On Wine – Hunting up great wine
Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on  July 24, 2014

John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

Can you imagine Jon Bonné, the wine editor for the San Francisco Chronicle, or Eric Asimov, the wine editor for the New York Times, sitting down to write a piece where they wonder in print which wine to use in a marinade for a jack rabbit their son shot in the head with an open sight 22 rifle and further, that while they were reaching for the wine, the rabbit was making a literal bloody mess of their kitchen as the skinning and gutting had not been done in the field?

The Ukiah Daily Journal wine column will always stand out as unique. We aren’t city folk, and this column will put an exclamation point on that. My son Charlie shot his first rabbit last night and brought the thing home, hoping I would help him dress it out. I used to hunt, but that was 35 years ago; I didn’t like gutting animals then, and I really didn’t want to do it last night. Charlie and his friend Jordan, with the help of YouTube videos for guidance, managed the task just fine.

I made a hasenpfeffer marinade, with a blend of 2008 V. Sattui Zinfandel, Black-Sears Vineyard, Howell Mountain, Napa Valley and 2013 Carol Shelton Wild Thing Rendezvous Rosé, Mendocino County (85% Mendocino County, Cox Vineyard, Ukiah, CCOF Certified Organically Grown; 15% Sonoma County, sustainably grown) wines. I also used red wine vinegar and a ton of herbs from the farm I work for.

Of course, I had to taste both wines. The 2008 V. Sattui Zinfandel was still big and bold as can be with dark black berry and earth notes, brambly fruit supported by wood. It was darn big, too big really. Great as a glass of wine by itself, but it was going to overpower the meat, so to soften the marinade a bit, I opened the 2013 Carol Shelton Wild Thing Rendezvous Rosé. This is such a delightful wine, sweet without being sugary, tart without being puckery, balanced bright succulent strawberry and watermelon fruit with a touch of citrus. The day’s temperature had been over 100 degrees, and the Carol Shelton Rosé was the better wine for summer season heat, while the V. Sattui Zin was more of a winter weight wine.

The rabbit meat will soak for four days and then the boys will cook it. Of course, I would never give the boys a taste of wine, so keep your letters to the editor about the perils of underage drinking to yourself, but if I were to let them taste a wine made to go with a wild hare, I think I would recommend the 2012 McFadden Old Vine Zinfandel. The McFadden Zin is cool climate grown, lower in alcohol, and brighter in fruit notes. A red wine, sweet tart candy noted – cherry, strawberry, and raspberry, with just a tickle of black pepper and herb in support of the fruit. Flavorful enough to go with wild rabbit, but light enough to not overpower it.

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On Friday, August 1, 2014, a group of respected wine writers will sit down to taste flight after flight of Mendocino County wines as judges for the 2014 Mendocino County Fair Wine Competition.

The competition is open to any wine made from Mendocino County grapes, even wineries from out of county may enter their Mendocino County wines. Wineries enter their wines in a spirit of friendly competition and winners get bragging rights for the following year.

The competition judging takes place in the morning and early afternoon, and the winners are announced at a fun dinner early the same evening.

Taste a delicious three course dinner prepared by the Mendocino College Culinary Arts program led by Chef Nicholas Petti of Mendo Bistro, while sampling award winning wines from the competition at the Mendocino County Fair Wine Competition Awards Ceremony and Dinner, open to the public, tickets are just $55 each. Again, the dinner and award ceremony are on Friday, August 1, 2014 from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. with plenty of wine from the competition to enjoy.

This year’s dinner benefits the Mendocino College Foundation.

Last year, I sat at a table with Potter Valley folk, and Gracia Brown of Visit Mendocino. Each time any Potter Valley wine award was mentioned, Bronze to Gold, our table cheered wildly. The fun and comradery of the dinner highlight the cooperative nature of the county, even at what is supposed to be a competition.

For your tickets, hit the LINK.

Not open to the public, but fun for the judges who come the day before the competition, there will be a tasting of Coro Mendocino wines hosted by Golden Vineyards in Hopland, and then a six course wine pairing dinner featuring wines of McFadden Farm and Seebass Family Wines plus the overwhelming bounty of fresh, organic, heirloom, and artisanal ingredients provided by Mendocino County’s best protein and produce growers, hosted by Seebass on Old River Road near Talmage

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Speaking of Seebass Family Wines, they recently opened a new tasting room in the Anderson Valley on Hwy 128.

Owners Michelle Myrenne Willoughby and husband Scott Willoughby run things, and their current releases include Chardonnay, Syrah, Merlot, and a Rosé of Grenache, called Fantasie. Look for an Old Vine Zinfandel this August 2014, and new 2013 vintage Chardonnay wines too.

Open 11-5 daily, the tasting room is in the heart of Boonville, right across the street from the Boonville Hotel; visit if you are in the area. This may be Anderson Valley’s only spot without Pinot Noir!

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EDITED TO ADD: Okay, a few more words for this online posting that didn’t appear in this week’s newspaper column…first I want to let you know that I made a change for this post and used a hyperlink to the Mendo Wine Comp Dinner Ticket page, where the newspaper piece had a web address as hyperlinks do not work in print ink.

Also, one more mention for this weekend’s Second Annual Anderson Valley Barrel Tasting Weekend event. $20 gets you a glass and wristband, with wonderful barrel tastings, Pinot Noir a major focus for most participating wineries, throughout the Anderson Valley and beyond…Yorkville Highland wineries will also be participating, making this more of a Highway 128 Barrel Tasting weekend (BT128). Online ticket sales have closed. You may purchase tickets at any one of the participating wineries during the event. Payment by cash or check is most appreciated to join the Saturday, July 26 and Sunday, July 27 fun. I will be attending this event as a guest of the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association, and I am grateful for the invitation.

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John on Wine- Coro Mendocino

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on July 17, 2014
Written by John Cesano

John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

 

So, you want to be a winemaker and you want to be old school about it? You buy an airline ticket and fly to Bordeaux France. When you get there, you find that there is a protocol for making wine in this geographically identifiable area, and that if you make your wine in Bordeaux using any varietal grapes other than those on a very short list of approved grape varietals for Bordeaux wines, then you’ll be with Luca Brasi, “swimming with the fishes”. Get caught dropping a single Pinot Noir grape into a barrel of Bordeaux wine and life as you knew it is forever changed for the worse.

It is the same in Burgundy, Tuscany, pretty much everywhere throughout Europe. Every geographically identifiable area has a protocol, a list of allowed grapes that can be used to make wine.

Here in the United States, things are different. Winemakers can make wine with much greater freedom, in a near willy-nilly manner. There is no geographically identifiable area making wine following a protocol — except Mendocino County, and the Coro Mendocino wines.

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For a short time, it could have been argued that California had the Meritage program, but the association did a poor job of protecting the name and protocol established, and now there are wines called Meritage made outside of the state, and even outside the country.

Back to Coro; unique in the United States, a group of Mendocino County winemakers got together a dozen years ago and decided to cooperatively and collaboratively make a wine representative of the county. They chose the name Coro, because Coro is Italian (and Spanish, Latin, and Portuguese) for Chorus. Where a chorus is a blending of voices into a harmonious whole that is greater than the individual voices, Coro wines would be blends of grapes made better than the individual varietals, and with multiple Mendocino County wineries producing their own Coro each year, the program would be greater than the individual efforts of any one winery.

There are wine regions that are famous for particular grapes; Napa is known for Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley is known for Pinot Noir. Sadly, the wine buying public did not similarly know what Mendocino County grew (other than Marijuana). The reason is that roughly 75 percent of the grapes grown in Mendocino County are bought and used by Napa and Sonoma County wineries to make their wines. Mendocino County was more of a grape farm county than a grape wine county.

The initial task for the first Coro winemakers, when creating a protocol for the wines to be made, was to make Zinfandel, Mendocino County’s most planted grape, the heart of every Coro wine. Every Coro would contain no less than 40 percent and no more than 70 percent Zinfandel. The blending grapes would be grapes that have historically grown alongside Zinfandel in the county, grapes that might have been harvested and co-fermented in the field blend wines of the past; typically Italian or Rhone varietals. There was also a 10 percent “free play” allowance established, so each participating winery could put their own flavor stamp on their Coro.

Other rules were established, barrel and bottle aging minimums, specified use of oak, chemistry limits to ensure a general uniformity with no outliers.

Recently, the 11th vintage was released, at a five course meal at the Little River Inn. The participating wineries were Barra, Brutocao, Clos du Bois, Fetzer, Golden, McFadden, Parducci, and Testa. The new Coro wines will be available at each winery’s tasting room. Golden promises a tasting room in Hopland before year’s end. For convenience, all new Coro wines are also sold at SIP! Mendocino in Hopland, for folks who want to pick up a vintage set.

Just before the dinner, I had an opportunity to gather with five Coro winemakers at Parducci for a television shoot. The CORO show is part of a three-part segment on the Mendocino County wine industry. The other shows are Women in Wine and Next-Gen in Wine. All three should air and be available for viewing by September at the latest, back to back, on public access channels and online. Look for “Spotlight on Mendocino County!” by Out & About Media in a couple of months.

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Coro winemakers, (l-r) Dennis Patton, George Phelan, Maria Testa Martinson, Bob Swain, and Hoss Milone. Photographic credit: Larry Wagner

I got to be the moderator, but the show could have self-moderated around a pouring of the Coro Mendocino wines poured that day by Bob Swain of Parducci Wine Cellars, Maria Martinson of Testa Family Winery, Hoss Milone of Brutocao Family Vineyards, George Phelan of Clod du Bois, and Dennis Patton of Golden Vineyards.

Photographic credit: Larry Wagner

Photographic credit: Larry Wagner

We tasted wines, each different, yet related by protocol, from five producers and three vintages. They were uniformly delicious, but Dennis stole the show by bringing a Golden Coro from the classic 2007 vintage. The answers from the five winemakers, their conversations, were probably better than my questions.

Line up of Coro

Photographic credit: Larry Wagner

Most striking was how every answer seemed to touch upon the collaborative aspects of the program, how winemakers blind taste barrel samples of each vintage several times, making and then sharing notes, all in an effort to produce the very best wines possible. The camaraderie among the winemakers was palpable.

Salute

Photographic credit: Larry Wagner

Huge thanks to the crew; producer Leigh Anne Lindsey from Out & About Media, director Steve Yoakum of MediaVectors Group, photographer Larry Wagner, and production assistants Marilyn Wagner and Mary Fairbanks.

Get out to a Coro member winery tasting room, and taste Mendocino County’s flagship wine. For more information about Coro Mendocino, visit their website at www.CoroMendocino.com.

EDITED TO ADD: For the archived copy of this column, I went back to the working title “Coro Mendocino #205″ which I came up with because it felt like I had written about Coro at least 204 times previously, sometimes a mere mention, sometimes a section in a column, while other times I use a whole column to spread the word of Coro. I’ve written pieces for 101 Things to do in Mendocino County and I wrote full page pieces for the Ukiah Daily Journal before I decided to take on a weekly column. By a wide margin of words, I have written more about Coro Mendocino than any other writer, so now you know why this piece was titled as it was. Oh, here’s a few archived Coro mentions: here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

2010 Coro Rankings

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John On Wine ­ – The column from Yuma

Originally published June 13, 2014 in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper

The 2014 Orange County Fair Commercial Wine Competition, put on each year by the Orange County Wine Society is one of the largest and most respected wine competitions held each year. Entry to wineries is free, where most competitions charge $60 to $80 per wine entered, and this year’s 30th annual event saw 2,323 wine entries. Gold medals were awarded to 345 wines and only 38 wines ­ just over 1-1/2 percent of all wines entered – received the rare special recognition 4 Star Gold Medal, a unanimous vote for Gold from all judges and the equivalent of a Double Gold medal from other wine competitions.

These are the wines using Mendocino County grapes that earned one of these highest awards:

McFadden 2011 White Riesling Mendocino County, Potter Valley, Late Harvest;

Navarro Vineyards 2012 Syrah Mendocino;

Paul Dolan Vineyards 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon Mendocino County, Certified Organic;

Stephen & Walker Trust Winery Ltd. 2012 Chardonnay Mendocino Ridge, Limited Release, Botrytised;

Yorkville Cellars 2011 Sparkling Wine “Cuvee Brut”, Mendocino County Rennie Vineyard & Randall Hill Vineyard Certified Organic The Yorkville Cellars. Sparkling Brut was also selected as the Best of Class wine in the Premium Sparkling wines category. I should have a list of all the gold medals out of Orange County, plus results of the 2014 California State Fair are due soon and I’ll post more top awards from both of these competitions as I receive them.

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Last night, as I write this, I was backstage at The Joint at the Hard Rock in Las Vegas for the last show of Guns n’ Roses’ residency. Andrew Dice Clay did a surprise guest set before Nic Cage announced the band and Axl Rose and the gang took the stage at midnight playing nonstop until just past three in the morning. I saw many things that would make wine tastings considerably more interesting if incorporated in our tasting rooms. With elevating platforms, laser lights, pole dancers, pyrotechnics, and confetti cannons, I am confident that inland Mendocino winery tasting rooms could quickly outdraw Napa tasting rooms. I’m pretty sure the show would be the talk of Hopland Passport for years to come.

Now, and as you read this, I’m in Yuma, Ariz. with my brother visiting our stepfather. I was at a super-sized supermarket today and visited the wine aisles. Underneath a sign for Syrah and Petite Sirah were Riesling and Moscato, and the entire Zinfandel section was stocked with pink wines. I’m not in wine country anymore. There were no wines in two long aisles with a Mendocino County appellation. With temperatures well over 100 degrees all week, I do understand the pink and white wines in place of red wines on the shelves here; folks are going to drink a whole lot more chilled wines — maybe even wine with ice cubes — than big dry red wines. It is already plenty dry enough here in the desert. I have to be honest, there is very little wine forecast for me this week, but plenty of Bloody Marys and Budweiser.

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Recently, I wrote about the June 28 dinner at the Little River Inn to celebrate the release of eight 2011 vintage Coro Mendocino wines. Since then the menu was sent out, and it looks so good that I had to share it with you: Dinner menu prepared by Chef Marc Dym, hosted by the Coro Mendocino Winemakers.

Passed Appetizer Course – Taste a showcase of each winery’s sparkling, white and rosé wines with a trio of chilled shooters: tomato consommé w/ grilled steak and chives; sweet pea pureé w/ Dungeness crab & truffle oil; and cucumber vichyssoise w/ gulf shrimp and lemon oil during the cocktail hour.

Soup Course paired with the 2011 Coro wines from McFadden Farm, Clos du Bois Winery and Testa Vineyards – Seafood cioppino terrine: Dungeness crab, green lip mussels, and fish with traditional San Francisco cioppino garnishes.

Middle Course paired with the 2011 Coro wines from Brutocao Cellars, Golden Vineyards & Parducci Wine Cellars – Smoked duck breast salad: local greens, Mission figs, burrata cheese, almonds, Dijon & balsamic reduction

Entrée Course paired with 2011 Coro wines from Fetzer Vineyards & Barra of Mendocino – Confit pork osso buco: slow cooked pork shanks with saffron risotto, grilled broccolini & fennel tomato demi-glace.

Dessert – Sable Breton biscuit with warm blackberry compote and Penny Royal Laychee fresh goat milk cheese.

Seating is limited; Reservations are required. The cost is $500 per couple, so call the Little River Inn to secure your place at the dinner, (707) 937-5942. Every time I write $500 for dinner, I cringe. Every time I mention it in my tasting room to new folks, they cringe. Then I explain that the $500 is for two dinners, a couple, and includes one complete set of the Coro wines. Eight bottles of 2011 Coro Mendocino at $40 makes for a $90 dinner per person, for five amazing course, complete with spectacular wine. Maybe if you tell em John sent you, they’ll pour the three time Double/4 Star Gold Medal winning bubbly during the cocktail hour. Coro dinner – it’s a bargain.

 

 

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John On Wine ­ – Mendocino Musings

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on February 13, 2014 by John Cesano

John Parducci was born Jan. 22, 1918 and died last week on Feb. 4, 2014 at the age of 96. John is the Parducci folks think of when they think of Parducci wine; and more recently, together with his grandson Rich, John was involved with McNab Ridge Winery.

John was named “Winemaker of the Year” at the Los Angeles County Fair, inducted into the Vintners Hall of Fame, bestowed with a Lifetime Achievement Award for Excellence in Winemaking, and was a California State Fair Lifetime Achievement Award recipient. John was the first to put the words “Mendocino County” on his wines. Growing up, there was often a bottle of wine made by John Parducci in our family home. John Parducci is a true Mendocino County wine icon, his contribution to the industry cannot be overstated, and he will be missed greatly.

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William Kubran visited me this week and brought me a pullout from USA Weekend featuring North America’s most romantic places, in cooperation with 10Best. Making the list was Mendocino, California.

William brought my attention to the write up, “Mendocino perches dramatically above the Pacific, a cliffside village brimming with galleries, cozy bistros and bookstores. Sonoma County wines add to the perfection.”

Really? Sonoma County wines add to the perfection of a visit to Mendocino? I suppose in the same way that Maryland blue crabs are a great dinner option when visiting Mendocino. In fairness, I suppose the writer of the piece was operating from a place of ignorance, not knowing that Mendocino grows great grapes and makes great wine. With 75 percent of the grapes grown in Mendocino County ending up in Sonoma and Napa County wines because the quality of our grapes is stellar, while the price is roughly half paid for grapes from those two counties. We do not enjoy the degree of recognition for our wines. I know that my writing is preaching to the choir, that folks in Ukiah are aware that Mendocino County wines are both good and value priced.

It is gratifying to see each mention of Mendocino County wines from writers not named John Cesano. Recently, the entire line up of 2010 vintage Coro Mendocino wines were tasted and reviewed by the folks at the Connoisseurs Guide to California Wines, and by Anthony Dias Blue for The Tasting Panel. I look forward to the day when Mendocino County wines are recommended for a visit to Mendocino in a story written for USA Today.

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In Sonoma County, whether your wines come from the Russian River Valley or Dry Creek Valley, Alexander Valley or Sonoma Valley, all wines must carry the Sonoma County appellation name on the bottle. In Mendocino County, wines may be labeled Potter Valley or Anderson Valley, and not include the words Mendocino County on the label.

Confusingly, Mendocino County wines may be labeled Mendocino instead of Mendocino County, while no one from Healdsburg would think of putting Sonoma instead of Sonoma County on their wine. Mendocino and Sonoma are towns; Wine labels that are meant to indicate a county should do so more clearly and, like Sonoma County, all wines from Mendocino County grapes should be labeled Mendocino County, in addition to any more definitive American Viticultural Area place name or vineyard designation.

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Valentine’s Day (and night) is coming up tomorrow, and for me that means bubbly. Here is a list of local bubbly producers in Mendocino County (some may be sold out): Elke Vineyards, Goldeneye, Graziano Family of Wines, Handley Cellars, Jeriko Estate, Lichen Estate, McFadden Vineyard, Navarro Vineyards, Nelson Family Vineyards, Paul Dolan Vineyards, Ray’s Station, Scharffenberger Cellars, Roederer Estate, Signal Ridge, Standish Wine Company, Terra Savia, and Yorkville Cellars.

Two producers of note: Roederer Estate has a 2004 L’Ermitage that was the #1 Wine of the Year for Wine Enthusiast Magazine and sells for $47, and McFadden Vineyard is the only producer to earn two Double Gold Medals at this year’s San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.

Guinness McFadden lowered the price of both of his double gold medal winners 20 percent, so everyone could afford to indulge in quality bubbly this Valentine’s Day; his NV Sparkling Brut is $20 and his 2009 Reserve Brut is $32.

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Speaking of Double Gold Medals from the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, every Gold Medal, Double Gold Medal, and Best of Class award winning wine from among the 5,825 entered into judging at the 2014 San Francisco Chronicle wine Competition will be poured for tasting this Saturday at Fort Mason in San Francisco. Look for wines by Alder Springs, Bliss/Brutocao, Campovida, Cesar Toxqui, Handley, Husch, Kimmel, McFadden, Naughty Boy, Navarro, Parducci, Philo Ridge, Seebass, and more. Tickets are $65 in advance, $80 at the door. http://www.winejudging.com/event_tickets.htm.

Note: This column originally ran in the Ukiah Daily Journal on Thursday, December 19, 2013 -

Wow, the last column before Christmas. This is where I am supposed to write the cliché “Holiday Gifts for your Wine Lover” piece. I’ll probably mention a couple of things that I like, but first, I have a couple of notes of thanks:

Thank you to everyone who, after reading my column last week, came to the McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room with a new unwrapped toy donation for our Toys For Tots toy drive & wine tasting event. We just about doubled the number of toys brought in last year, and we will be able to bring these toys to the Hopland Volunteer Fire Department for the wonderful firemen to deliver, helping Santa, on Christmas Eve. The thanks for this success, and the joy and smiles of the children helped, is all because of you, and I am incredibly grateful.

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Thanks also go to my boss Guinness McFadden and to our winemakers Bob Swain and Mark Beaman. Last week, I was invited to sit in on tastes of wines we’ll release in the future, and helped shape a future Coro blend. I am a taster guy; I taste wine, describe it, and sell it. I know the rudimentary process of winemaking, but this knowledge is much more theory than practice, and sitting with two accomplished winemakers in their realm, not mine, was a terrific experience. I learned a ton, and I gained a new and valuable perspective.

Finally, many folks to thank for last week’s Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush Ukiah, featuring the 2010 vintage Coro Mendocino wines.

First, thanks to my boss for picking up the tab for my dinner. Next, thanks to the entire staff at Crush, from chefs Jesse and Nate and their entire kitchen crew to the front of house team, for another spectacularly executed wine dinner experience. Speaking of front of house team, thanks to Julie Golden from Coro Mendocino for working alongside the team to pour a plentitude of delicious wine. Huge thanks go to local superstar photographer Tom Liden; as soon as I saw Tom with his camera, I knew I could leave my picture taking device in it’s bag. Finally, thanks to everyone who attended the dinner; without you and the energy you bring, there would be no special wine dinners.

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Photography by Tom Liden, Tom Liden Photography

The Coro Dinner at Crush saw the largest event gathering, 70 guests, in the history of all three Crush restaurants, and the event sold out earlier than any previous dinner, with many people on a waiting list, hoping for a cancellation.

I love the Zinfandel based blends of the Coro Mendocino program, they were all delicious. Food highlights for me were the wedge salad with Nueske bacon, blue cheese, and red onions; the crab balls – they were billed as cakes, but trust me they were balls; oysters Rockefeller; and Prime Rib with all the trimmings. For me, the best, and most memorable, food and wine pairing of the night was at dessert, when the Butterscotch Budino, a bowl with chocolate pudding on the bottom, then caramel pearls, then butterscotch pudding, topped with Chantilly cream and mint – you dug down to get all layers with each spoonful – was paired with the Double Gold and Best of Class awarded 2011 McFadden Late Harvest Riesling. I expected delicious, but this pairing left delicious far behind; this was a perfect pairing. A spoon and a tiny sip, another spoon and another sip, until, too soon, it was gone.

This dinner series is a treat, and I’ll let you know about future dinners when I hear about them.

The next scheduled Coro dinner will be the 2011 vintage release party at the Little River Inn on Saturday, June 28, 2014. For more info, or to make a reservation, call the Little River Inn at (707) 937-5942.

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Okay, here are some wine gift recommendations for Christmas:

Wine. Visit any winery tasting room, enjoy a wine tasting if you have the time, and pick up some delicious wines for the holidays. Wine makes a great hostess gift when you visit for a Christmas party or dinner. Wine makes food taste better, so you should serve it at your table too. A couple of bottles wrapped and placed under the tree make for great emergency gifts when someone gives you a gift and you hadn’t purchased a gift for them yet. Wine was Christ’s first miracle, and he offered a cup to the dinner guests at His last supper, so wine infuses a little miracle into this season of Christmas.

Wine gadgets. A good wine opener, an aerator, reusable bottle stoppers, a Champagne stopper, and a can of argon or argon mixed with nitrogen to preserve wine between glasses are all great gifts that a wine lover will appreciate.

Wine books: I have two to recommend. The first features the words of Heidi Cusick Dickerson, who wrote a weekly wine column in the Journal before I did, and the photography of Tom Liden, and is focused on the wines, wineries, and vineyards of Mendocino County. The book is Mendocino Roots & Ridges and retails for $29.95. It is gorgeously rich in content, and hand signed copies by Heidi and Tom are available widely, including the McFadden tasting room in Hopland.

The second book has a larger focus, The New California Wine by San Francisco Chronicle wine editor Jon Bonne retails at $35, and is available at better book stores everywhere. Among my favorite dozen inland Mendocino vineyards that Bonne notes are Eaglepoint Ranch, Gibson Ranch, Heart Arrow Ranch, Lolonis, McFadden Farm, Sun Hawk, and Testa; as well almost twenty Anderson Valley properties. The book is a look at California’s wine industry today, growers, winemakers, and the wines, and is an absolute must have book for anyone serious enough about wine to have a library of wine books.
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That’s it, some thanks, a couple of wine gift ideas, and this wish: Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, or whatever year end wish for happiness works for you, from me.

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John On Wine ­ – What wine goes with Turkey?

Originally published November 21, 2013 in the Ukiah Daily Journal by John Cesano

 

Thanksgiving dinner: What are you having? This year, the lure became too strong and a turducken shipped overnight from Louisiana will be the feature treat for me. For those of you who do not know what a turducken is (vegetarians would be best served skipping the next bit, moving on to the next paragraph right about now) a chicken stuffed inside a duck stuffed inside a turkey, with layers of creole cornbread stuffing in between each bird. Careful deboning is involved. Some folks make this a DIY project at home, but a call to the Cajun Grocer is much easier.

In the past, I’ve brined, I’ve baked, and I’ve set turkeys to turning in a set-it-and-forget-it rotisserie machine. Our family and many other Italian American families often had crab cioppino on Thanksgiving.

There was a store where I grew up that made arrangements with boats for their entire catch and huge trucks would be loaded at the docks, and run into town to make the freshest crab available for Thanksgiving.

The store ran ads for the crab at spectacularly low prices, using the crab as a loss leader to bring every Italian American in town to their store to shop for all of their holiday food. The result was a counter lined up eight deep with folks waiting to get their crab orders filled; two crabs, four crabs, eight crabs.

The last time I made crab cioppino using my sainted mother’s recipe, I used 16 whole crabs, cooked up two huge pots, used a ton of other shellfish and big chunks of white fish, plus a red sauce that cooked over 24 hours.

Something is wrong with my brother, okay many things are wrong with my brother, but only I can say that (well, I’m sure his ex-wives do, too); anyway, my brother does not like turkey. I get not liking mass produced, pumped up with water, 59 cents a pound, flavorless turkeys, but my brother doesn’t even like the million dollar a pound organic, free range, Willie Bird turkeys grown in Sonoma County. On Thanksgiving he cooks up a ham, a huge delicious ham.

In addition to a main course dish, of course, there is the stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, green bean casserole, candied yams, polenta, baked oysters, cranberry chutney, green salads, pumpkin pie, apple pie, minced meat pie, and so much more served at the typical Thanksgiving table. I mention all these foods that people eat at Thanksgiving because when it comes to Thanksgiving’s varied meals, there is no one singular right wine.

No wine goes with everything, and let’s face it, nearly everything ends up on our Thanksgiving dinner tables. My solution lately has been to bring an assortment of wines to our family Thanksgiving dinner feast, cooked by my son’s maternal grandmother, my ex-wife’s mom. I think they continue to invite me because of the wine. Oh, and this year, I’m bringing a wild rice and broccoli casserole, too.

Conveniently, I work in a place that sells both wine and wild rice. Wild rice is also great for stuffings, and that provides the opportunity for a wine pairing trick. Cook some of your food in wine that you want to serve at the dinner. By cooking a wild rice stuffing in some Pinot Gris, or cooking down the onions, celery, and carrots that will go into your stuffing in a little Pinot Gris, then the Pinot Gris that you serve with dinner will tie back to the food.

I always cooked my crab cioppino in a red sauce that included some rich red Zinfandel, and I would serve the same wine at the table. My ham glaze has a little Coro Mendocino red blend in the mix. The whipped cream for a trifle, or to top a pie, has a little Late Harvest Riesling in it. If you aren’t a cook with wine sort, or you cook strictly to recipes and are afraid to incorporate some wine into your dish, then you are either going to have to find a food chameleon, a wine that goes with many foods, or an assortment of wines for your Thanksgiving table.

Pinot Noir is a relatively soft red wine that goes with many dishes. The soft dry cherry notes, light herb, and slightly earthy quality of Pinot Noir, make for a red not overwhelmingly big and bold, and allow it to pair spectacularly well, classically well, with dishes from salmon to pork. Local solid producers include Barra and Girasole of Redwood Valley, Parducci and Paul Dolan in Ukiah, Jeriko Estate and Saracina between Ukiah and Hopland, and Naughty Boy and Cesar Toxqui Cellars in Hopland.

Blends are a smart choice, because with different grapes come multiple wine flavors, and multi noted wines can pair with a wider variety of dishes than many single varietal wines. The county’s most famous blend is Coro Mendocino and the lightest, most food friendly style, the only one under 14 percent alcohol is the McFadden Coro, a blend of Zinfandel, Syrah, and Petite Sirah. Other Coro Mendocino wines that would pair well with many Thanksgiving dinner spreads are made by Ray’s Station and Brutocao Cellars. McFadden, Ray’s Station, and Brutocao are all located in Hopland.

Rosé wines are too often passed on because folks often associate all rosés with the cheapest and worst made White Zinfandel when the truth is that some of the most delicious wines available are dry rosés of Syrah, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, or Zinfandel. Terrific examples include those made by Campovida, Graziano, Frey, and McNab Ridge in Hopland, and Testa Ranch in Calpella.

Bubblies are one of the most popular bottles I bring, often finished first at a family holiday dinner. Great bubbly producers include Terra Sávia and McFadden in Hopland, and Nelson between Ukiah and Hopland.

Thanksgiving is about celebration with family and friends, about overflowing cornucopias and abundance. My recommendation is to grab a number of bottles, perhaps one or more from each of the categories above, an assortment of wines from an assortment of producers, all local, all delicious. Every wine mentioned is available for tasting this weekend, either complimentary or tasting fee refunded with purchase, so stock up on great wines that will make your Thanksgiving meal taste better, and your festivities more festive.

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John On Wine ­ – Alphabet soup (VMC, MWI, AVWA, ATORV, DH, YHGVA)

Originally published on November 7, 2013 in the Ukiah Daily Journal by John Cesano


Last week was remarkable for inland Mendocino County’s wine scene. In a perfect example of “when it rains, it pours,” after I had complained that the wineries of inland Mendocino county receive scant attention when compared to the folks over in the Anderson Valley, all of a sudden we started getting noticed.

First, of course, was the San Francisco Chronicle’s tasting room reviewer for the Sunday travel section giving a three star review to the lovely Campovida and then a three and a half star review to the small but mighty McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room, both located in Hopland.

The impact, the number of first time visitors who came because of the write up, was astonishing.

Next, Visit Mendocino County (VMC) brought professional photographers for all of last week, and in addition to capturing photographs in Anderson Valley and on the coast, the Vintage Marketplace building, which houses four winery tasting rooms, in Hopland was one of the locations chosen. Any promotional efforts by VMC on behalf of the winery tasting rooms, restaurants, and places to stay here along the 101 corridor from Hopland up to Willits, will be greatly appreciated.

Huge thanks go out to Jen Filice from VMC, who shepherded photographers and models all over the county, and to Margaret Pedroni from Ray’s Station, who was instrumental in helping the Vintage Marketplace location be chosen as the new hot spot for tourism promotion.

Speaking of Margaret Pedroni, Margaret also handles marketing for Coro Mendocino and has been busy working with Dave Richards, the manager of Crush restaurant in Ukiah, to see the 2010 vintage Coro Mendocino wines be the featured wines for the next Crush Chef’s Wine Dinner, on Wednesday, Dec. 11.

All 10 producers will be featured, Brutocao, Claudia Springs, Fetzer, Golden, Mendocino Vineyards, McFadden, McNab Ridge, Parducci, Philo Ridge, and Ray’s Station, but with eight of the 10 wines being made at inland wineries, hopefully this dinner will bring a little more attention to the area.

You may have noticed a sign or two, or read an ad, or heard about events while listening to local radio; we are smack dab in the middle of the Mendocino Mushroom, Wine & Beer Fest. It started last weekend, and runs through this weekend.

Many wineries throughout the county take advantage of the opportunity this festival, organized and promoted by VMC, provides. For two weekends, mushroom appetizers are available to taste with wines at dozens of winery tasting rooms. I, as an example, spent four hours preparing enough mushroom risotto to feed an army, and maybe a navy and some marines too, for my tasting room.

Restaurants team with wineries to feature mushroom and wine pairing meals, like Tuesday’s delicious dinner two nights ago at Uncorked in downtown Ukiah that featured the wines of winemaker Deanna Starr of Milano and Uncorked’s magical mushroom menu.

The big event is the mushroom train, where guests travel on the Skunk Train from both Willits and Fort Bragg to Camp Mendocino in a benefit for the Mendocino County Museum to taste culinary delights paired with the best local wine and beer.

A group of celebrity judges, members of the travel, food, or wine media, take part in the mushroom train event, taste the creations, and announce their favorites.

Last Friday, the members of the press and folks from throughout Mendocino County, kicked off their weekend at a reception put on by VMC and hosted by the four winery tasting rooms of Vintage Marketplace in Hopland; Ray’s Station, Graziano Family of Wines, McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room, and Naughty Boy Vineyards.

Again, it was a treat to play host to visiting press, and also to our counterparts from around the county. Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association (AVWA) Executive Director Janis MacDonald was among the visitors and, always gracious, was very complimentary about one of our wines, sharing a story about how well it went over with a group recently. Poorly kept secret: I don’t only taste and drink wines from inland Mendo, and although I may not write them up, I love scores of wines made in the Anderson Valley.

Thanks to VMC’s Scott Schneider, Alison de Grassi, and Jen Filice for all you did to make the reception happen, and for making sure it was such a delightful success.

Lastly, but absolutely not leastly, the Mendocino Winegrowers, Inc. (MWI) brought all of Mendocino County’s grape growers, winemakers, tasting room managers, everyone in our industry, together for a wonderful night of fellowship and celebration at a Harvest Party BBQ Dinner at Seebass Family Vineyards on Old River Road about a mile and a half north of the Buddhist Temple in Talmage. All hands were on deck for this one.

Thanks to Zak Robinson and Aubrey Rawlins of MWI, and all the folks from A Taste of Redwood Valley (ATORV), Destination Hopland (DH), Yorkville Highlands Growers & Vintners Association (YHGVA), and Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association for bringing so many of your folks to this special night. Hosts Scott and Michelle Willoughby could not have wished for a more perfect evening for Seebass, for inland Mendocino County, and for the county’s wine community as a whole.

Glenn McGourty, University of California Cooperative Extension farm advisor to Mendocino and Lake County, was presented with a richly deserved award for his many years of service to the entire county’s grape growing success; MWI announced the receipt of a grant from the USDA’s Risk Management Agency; the Mendocino Winegrowers Foundation, the non-profit organization raising resources for the Winegrowers’ Scholarship Fund, presented past recipients and fundraised for future recipients. All in all, a great night for Mendocino County’s wine industry, in the midst of a period of great promotional promise for the wineries of the inland county.

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John on Wine – Crush keeps crushing it!

Originally published on October 31, 2013 in the Ukiah Daily Journal by John Cesano

Wine and food. For me wine is food, an ingredient that, when added to a dish, makes a dish taste better. Pair it with the dish and the Heavens open and angels sing.

I have written about the last two Chef’s Wine Dinners at Crush Italian Steakhouse in Ukiah. First I wrote a newspaper column about the amazing dinner featuring winemaker Alex MacGregor’s wines from Saracina, and then I wrote an online piece about the spectacular dinner that showcased Charlie and Martha Barra’s wines of both Barra and Girasole.

I eat at other spots, many with terrific wine lists, and I’ll get to them in future columns, but Crush just keeps on, well, crushing it.

Last week, I took the opportunity to attend the third Chef’s Wine Dinner in the ongoing series. The night featured the wines of Bonterra Organic Vineyards. These dinners have grown to become sold out events. You have to call and grab your tickets early. Two long tables in a private dining room, laid out with place settings heavy on the wine glasses, await the night’s patrons. Folks sit together, and courses are served family style, which encourages communication as platters of food from the kitchen are passed and the food and wine combinations elicit at first squeals of delight and then, later in the evening, deeper moans of over full contentment.The evening’s offerings are deceptively described as First Course, Second Course, and Dessert. I say deceptively, because there are so many more items arriving at the table than a mere three dishes.

Each “course” is actually comprised of four or five dishes. Dessert is often three dessert elements fused into one greater whole. There are often bonus tastes of passed appetizers. All told, these three courses yield ten to a dozen food experiences. I’ve described these nights as Chef Jesse off the leash, nights for him to do one thing and one thing only: impress every diner and leave a lasting impression that brings each guest back again and again. Jesse’s team of chefs do a fantastic job, and assemble at each evening’s close to take a well-earned round of applause. Of course, the front of house has to fire on all cylinders for a night like this to work, and from Manager Dave through his entire team of servers, everything on the service end just purrs.

Last week, Chef Jesse delivered braised pork belly, with a perched and poached quail egg, buerre monte, and chive sticks; a beets salad, with roasted red, golden & striped beets, goat cheese, citrus, and hazelnut champagne vinaigrette; Devils on horseback: Nueske bacon wrapping Point Reyes bleu cheese stuffed Medjool dates; and crab stuffed piquillo poppers, with Dungeness crab, avocado mousse, tomato, esplette, olive oil, and micro greens.

That was just the first course, and it was paired with the 2012 Bonterra Sauvignon Blanc, my favorite wine of the night, with sweet green fresh mown hay, light herb, candied lemon mint sweetness, lime and bright grapefruit notes. A 50/50 Lake/Mendocino County wine, it showed lovely balance, at once both lush and showing crisp acidity. It was a treat tasting pork belly and quail egg ­- don’t you love cutting into a perfectly cooked egg and having the yolk released to form a bonus sauce – yum. Anyway, it was a treat tasting this dish with a Sauvignon Blanc instead of a red wine. Great confidence in pairing on display. The beets salad and crab poppers were also tremendously delicious.

The Second Course featured both a 2011 Bonterra Pinot Noir, just rated 90 points by Wine Enthusaiast, and a 2010 Bonterra Zinfandel. The Pinot Noir was meaty, with strawberry, cherry, and dark rich rhubarb; really drinkable, just lovely, supple yet delicate. The Zinfandel was soft yet bold, spicy with raspberry and strawberry, vinuous anise herb, and a touch of pepper spice.The big treat came pairing these two wines with Chef Jesse’s dishes for the second course: local J-bar-S bison 8 hour (tasted like 48) ragu, with pancetta, tomato, (phenomenal) handmade herbed gnocchi, basil, ricotta, and Reggiano; cracked pepper seared Ahi tuna with chanterelle mushrooms and a Bonterra Pinot Noir reduction; potatoes au gratin, Yukon golds with saffron cream, gruyere, and fresh herbs; and roasted delicate squash with creamed Swiss chard, celery root, and caramelized shallot salt.

Holy foodgasm! The bison gnocchi rigotta ragu dish with Zinfandel was stunningly perfect. The Ahi and chanterelles was gorgeous. The veggie dish with creamed swiss chard was divine.

Dessert was a (local) apple strudel of filo, toasted walnuts, cinnamon, Chantilly crème, and homemade ice cream, paired with the Bonterra Muscat which featured aromatic honeysuckle, floral and sweet-tart pear and mandarin notes, finishing with a zing.

As I have attended each of the Chef’s wine dinners at Crush, I had more than one diner ask if there was always this much food, as numerous a selection of excellent tastes, or whether this was a unique abundance. I am happy to say that for $50-$65 per person, depending on the wines being featured, the Chef’s wine dinners at crush in Ukiah are always the best wine dinner experience and a bargain as well.

Up next: On December 11, 2013, Chef Jesse and the entire Crush Ukiah team will deliver another breathtaking multi dish, multi course, meal and the wines featured will be the 2011 Coro Mendocino wines, Mendocino County’s celebration of grapes and winemaking, heritage Zinfandel blends, from Brutocao, Claudia Springs, Fetzer, Golden, Mendocino Vineyards, McFadden, McNab Ridge, Parducci, Philo Ridge, and Ray’s Station. With so many powerhouse wineries involved, and the other dinner these wines are poured at going for $500 per couple, the $65 per person tickets – to taste the entire line up of Coro Mendocino wines with the consistently breathtaking food creations of Chef Jesse – will sell out faster than any previous Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush. Secure your spot today by calling (707) 463-0700 and I’ll see you there!

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John On Wine ­
Blends: The sum should be greater than the parts

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal on September 19, 2013 by John Cesano
John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

Recently, I had a chance to judge and help pick a winning blend at the Third Annual Testa Barn Blend BBQ in Calpella.

Each table blended 2012 vintages of four wines, Testa Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Carignane, and Petite Sirah. Together with Rosemary Eddy and Sarah Bailey, a winning blend was selected from among the 22 created.

Maria Testa Martinson shared something that John Buchenstein told her, when he was dropping off graduated cylinders for the blending party; he said, “Blends brings people together.”

Fans of different varietal wines, a Cabernet Sauvignon lover and a Zinfandel lover as an example, can come together in their enjoyment of a wine that has some of both of these grapes in the blend. Also, at a blending party, the act of blending, creating a new wine through trial and error, mixing and tasting, with table mates, brings people together.

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Most of the wine you buy and enjoy is a blend. That Cabernet Sauvignon you just picked up likely has some Merlot blended in, just as many Merlot bottles have some Cabernet Sauvignon blended in.

To carry a varietal name on the label, a wine must be made up of at least 75 percent of that named grape, but can have up to 25 percent of non-named grapes blended in.

A reason for the blending is that Cabernet Sauvignon without Merlot is often too firm and harsh, and Merlot without Cabernet can be flabby and insipid; but a little Merlot makes a Cabernet Sauvignon a little softer and a little Merlot in a Cabernet Sauvignon in Merlot provides a little structure.

Throughout Europe, wines are most often blends. Buy a white Bordeaux, and you are likely tasting a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillion; a Châteauneuf-du-Pape can include any of 13 varietals but typically includes Grenche, Syrah, and Mourvèdre; while Chianti usually includes Sangiovese and Canaiolo. Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah may be added in a Super Tuscan. These classic, traditional blends do not have grape varietal names on their labels, but instead carry the place name where the wine was born.

One reason these traditional European wine blends for each geographical area exist is simple: the wines being made taste good.

Taking a cue from the old world, California wines, which carry varietal names, allow the blending of complimentary varietals, to also make good tasting wines, and without losing the main grape varietal identification.

Many years ago, at a barrel tasting weekend in the Dry Creek Valley, long before it picked up the reputation of being a drunk fest event, I tasted the best Zinfandel I had ever tasted. The barrel sample at Preston was amazing and I called and called about the wine, as it moved from barrel to bottle, and then through bottle aging, before release. At last, I got to taste the wine, and my disappointment was huge. Almost every Zinfandel I had tasted growing up blended a little Carignane with the Zinfandel, but this wine had blended the full allowable 25 percent of Cabernet Sauvignon into the Zinfandel, a blend I had never tasted before, making the wine taste nothing like any Zinfandel I had ever tasted. The blend yielded a wine that had lost all varietal correctness for me.

Because I loved Preston, I ended up tasting the wine again and again, and with each tasting I came to be upset less and less. Although the wine didn’t really taste like Zinfandel, letting go of the influence of remembering what had been the best barrel sample ever, and asking myself, not as a Zinfandel, but simply as a wine, was it good? Did I like it? The answer surprised me, as in time it became yes. This was, when not judged for varietal correctness, a delicious wine and incredibly food friendly.

Sparkling wines are often blends; any time you see the word Cuvee on a label, that sparkling wine is a blend, usually a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes.

Every local Coro Mendocino wine ever made is a blend, with Zinfandel comprising 40-70 percent of the wine, and the balance largely grapes that have historically grown alongside Zinfandel in the county going back 100 years.

Winemakers using only Bordeaux varietal grapes in a blend where no varietal meets the 75 percent or higher threshold can label that wine Meritage, if that winery joins the Meritage association and sends one of each case they make to the person who coined the portmanteau, joining the words marriage and heritage, at the program’s inception.

Saracina has their Atrea Old Soul Red, Greg Graziano has his Saint Gregory Pinotrois; local proprietary blends abound.

I find blends exciting because they free a winemaker of the need to hew to varietal correctness, and allow for greater artistry. With no burden of expectation, the wines often surprise and delight.

I frequently serve blends with a dinner and revel in the way the different foods on my plate pull different aroma and flavor notes from the component wines of the blend, allowing the wine to pair brilliantly, but differently, with each dish.

Blend wines are often natural food chameleons, going with a wide variety of flavors, and, as such, should be sought out when enjoying a meal at one of inland Mendocino county’s wine friendly restaurants.

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John Cesano writes about wine and has more than two hundred posts online at JohnOnWine.com

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